It’s not as if America works like it did in the mid-20th century. The Pentagon, the largest office building in the world, was built in 410 days. Even more amazing is it took all of four months between conception of the project and the beginning of construction. Now flash forward about seventy years when we have all sorts of improvement in technology. At one of my local parks, three 2-story buildings, a total of about 50,000 sq. ft, are now being built. That is 0.8% of the size of the Pentagon. These buildings were five years in planning and (so far) two years in construction. Egad, our country appears to be regressing.
What are the differences? Certainly not the capabilities of the American people. There are, in fact, three culprits: First, our political leaders have far too little concern for our tax dollars. They think that if the price of a project goes up, they can just throw more money at it. They don’t insist upon realistic cost estimates out of fear that if people knew the real price tag, the project would be rejected. Second, NIMBYs and environmentalists now add enormous time and cost to the development process, an increase magnified by the time value of money. Finally, the requirement that union labor be used on public projects escalates the cost exponentially. It limits competitive bidding and drives costs into the stratosphere.
Governor Christie took a long look at this, and considered the recent history of large public works projects in the Northeast, like The Big Dig in Boston. The cost of that project started at $2.8 billion, ended at $15 billion, and with interest will cost a staggering $22 billion to pay off. He considered the fact that none of the underlying reasons for these cost overruns have ever been seriously addressed. And he realized that if he approved the project now, when they came back asking for another billion and another billion after that, he would have no choice but to approve it. He looked at all these factors and said NO – not on my watch.
Don’t blame the messenger. Blame the people who have caused every project, no matter how small, to be dragged out with study after study. Blame the rules that restrict competitive bidding and require that construction is done by overpriced union labor. Blame the politicians who have allowed this process to descend into this disaster all over our country. Governor Christie was just the first to say no more. For that, he should be declared a hero.